• My Race Day Routine

    March 15, 2011

    I still can’t believe that I have six races on my calendar in just as many weeks. Who am I!?! Clearly, I’m a little too ambitious.

    With all of this race talk, I thought it would be helpful to share my race day routine since it can be equally exciting as it is nerve-wracking. Here’s how I maximize the enjoyment of race day without stressing out over too many of the details.

    THE DAY BEFORE

    Pick up my race packet

    Picking up my race packet the day before always saves me so much time the following morning. It also makes me feel a lot more prepared and confident knowing that all I have to do is show up at the race and run it. Plus, if there are any issues, I can work them out the day before the race. Also, I’m more likely to get my desired race t-shirt size if I pick up my packet early.

    Layout all of my equipment

    Laying out all of my running equipment is a huge part of my planning process. I mentally dress myself from head to toe and grab each item as I go. Here’s a list of what I typically bring with me on long runs. On race day, I pretty much bring the same stuff– depending on the weather, of course. (Here’s what I wear on cold weather runs.)

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    Create a plan for the morning

    I always stress out about being late and missing the start of the race, so I make sure to create a plan for the morning. This means that I:

    • Double-check the start time of the race
    • Get directions and figure how long it will take me to get there
    • Map out where to park at the race
    • Pick a time to leave the house, which will give me plenty of time before the race

    Thinking about all of these logistics ahead of time helps minimize stressful situations on race morning. Plus, not worrying about these details allows me to focus on the race.

    Drink water

    I always worry about drinking too much water on race morning because I don’t want to waste time by waiting in the never-ending restroom line. So, the day before the race, I make sure to guzzle water to help hydrate me for the following day.

    Charge everything

    It’s the worst when you get to the start line of a race only to realize that your Garmin or iPod is dead. The day before a race, I make sure to charge up all of my electronics needed for the next day.

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    Get some quality sleep… two nights before the race

    The night before a race, I usually get the pre-race jitters, so I force myself to go to bed early. Even still, there are lots of times that I just can’t fall asleep no matter what I do. I don’t want a lack of sleep to influence my race performance, so I make sure to get some quality sleep two nights before the race. 

    Set two (or more) alarms

    My biggest worry before a race is sleeping through my alarm and missing the start of the race, so I set two different alarms on my phone. I also double-check that the ringer is turned on and that my alarm is set for AM and not PM.

    THE MORNING OF

    Fuel up

    On race morning, I eat my go-to breakfast of peanut butter and banana on whole wheat bread with an iced coffee, which gives me plenty of energy for the start of the race. This combo is easily digestible and doesn’t give me any stomach issues. I eat my breakfast about 2-3 hours prior to the race.

    If you’re a new runner, make sure you experiment with different pre-run foods during your training to see what works (and doesn’t work) for you, so you are prepared for race day. I’m telling ya, you don’t want any surprises!

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    Get there early

    Even though I create a plan for the morning, there’s always the possibility that something can go wrong, so I arrive early to the race (usually about an hour before the gun start). I give myself plenty of time to find parking, wait in the line for the restroom, check my bag, warm-up, stretch, get mentally prepared, etc.  

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    Line up

    The start line at a race is crowded and a little crazy with so many people, paces, and corrals. In the past, I wasn’t sure of my running pace, so I’d line up near the middle/back of the pack, which is usually a good place for beginner runners. Occassionally, I’d overestimate my pace time, so I’d end up weaving in and out of runners, but I wasn’t slowing anyone down either.

    Nowadays, I know my pace, so if the race has corrals or posted pace signs, I line up there. If not, I ask runners nearby about their anticipated pace. It makes the start of the race much less hectic.

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    Stay positive

    Before the start of a race, I always get those nervous butterflies in my stomach. Then, I start to hear a little voice in my head that tells I might fail out there on the course. Before I know it, I start to question my training and physical abilities. So, now, I try to stay as positive as possible on race morning. I remind myself that I’ve trained well (trust your training!) and I WILL finish the race. Then, I take a deep breath and wait for the gun.

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    DURING THE RACE

    Keep pace

    I’m guilty of going out too fast at the start of a race. When I do this, my energy fizzles for the rest of the race, so I try to keep my pace steady for the first half of the race and then pick it up for the last part.

    Look around and smile

    When I’m really dogging it during a race, I look around and focus on the experience of running with whole bunch of strangers. It’s such a weird thing to do, but it’s also very inspirational. I love the we’re-all-in-it-together feeling.

    I also boost my motivation by clapping for musicians along the course, high-fiving kids on the sidelines, and thanking volunteers at the water stops. Having this happy-go-lucky attitude always positively impacts my race day experience and my ability to push through to the end.

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    Use the water stops

    I used to skip the water stops during a race, thinking that I’d lose precious time, but now I always take advantage of them, especially during long races. If I wait too long to hydrate myself, it always negatively affects my running, which slows me down in the end. Here’s what I do: I slow my pace, grab a cup of water, walk through the water stop, and catch my breath before running again. If you’ve never done this before, here are some tips on how to take water from a hydration stop.

    Quick tip: If there are water stops on either side of the course, go for the one on the left. It’s often less crowded and easier to navigate.

    Repeat mantras

    Mantras are my saving grace during races. They motivate me, distract me from pain, and keep me focused. I use them when the going gets tough on my long runs too, so they become more automatic on race day. Here are my favorite running mantras.

    Finish strong

    Even if I feel like total crap at the end of the race, I always cross the finish line as strong as I can. At the end of the race, I want to know that I gave it everything I had.

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    AFTER THE RACE

    Keep the momentum going

    After I celebrate my post-race victory, I always end up thinking about the next race. I take advantage of my post-race runner’s high and keep the momentum going by setting new goals for myself and scoping out new races to run.

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    What are your race day tips?

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    { 71 comments… read them below or add one }

    Courtney March 15, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Excellent post! SO helpful since I just ran my first 5k on Sunday & I just signed up for another one — The Baltimore Women’s Classic 5k in June! :)

    Reply

    Katie G. March 16, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Hey Courtney, did you run the St. Patty’s 5k in Bmore? I did too! Such a great day! Congrats on your first 5k!

    Reply

    Alaina March 15, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    I’m always afraid of over hydrating and then having to go to the bathroom throughout the race. I like the advice to hydrate enough the night before!

    I try and get there early too. If I’m rushed before a race, all of my energy is gone by the time I start running.

    Reply

    Melissa (MelissaLikesToEat) March 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Great tips! I just ran my first race (10K) this past Saturday. I agree with getting all your stuff out the night before! Huge stress reliever!

    Reply

    Kacy March 15, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Great tips! I definitely love interacting with the crowd and other runners to stay motivated.

    Reply

    Kate (What Kate is Cooking) March 15, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    I always, always, ALWAYS have to eat the same breakfast before a long race / long run- sandwich thin with peanut butter and banana. If it’s a short race, I’ll eat whatever I’m craving, but I’m so scared to switch up my routine if I’m going over 10 miles or so.

    I also like to lay my stuff out and charge everything the night before. I also have a weird habit of straightening my hair before a race, even though I’m just going to get sweaty and disgusting in a few minutes :)

    Reply

    Shana March 15, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Thanks for putting out such an amazing site! Reading your blog has been so inspiring and gave me the confidence I needed to run my first 5k on Saturday. These tips and tricks will definately help during the next race. I can’t thank you enough for providing such an entertaining and informational site. I always feel good reading it and seeing someone who loves food and fitness so much motivates me to keep challenging myself in new ways. Can’t wait to see the book for more ideas!

    Reply

    Rachael March 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    My fears are:
    1. not waking up. I set the alarm on my iphone and my hubby’s iphone. If we are away I also set the alarm clock in the room, and ask the hotel for a wake up call!
    2. getting lost. The day prior to the race, I usually pick up my race packet, and then we do a dry run to the starting corrals by car or foot (the same as I will do on race day)
    3. my tummy! It gets upset easily. Before the race I have half a thin whole wheat bagel or english muffin, peanut butter and a banana. I’m still working on fueling during the race. Most of the ades (powerade, gatorade) and gu’s/gels upset my tummy. I need to find something for during the races.

    Reply

    Laura Dickerson March 10, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    @Rachael: The GU’s upset me too, but the cliff brand of gels and shot blocks are ok, have you tried those? Also I’ve heard of people bringing dates along as fuel too!

    Reply

    Christine (The Raw Project) March 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    Great tips, I always try to be prepared the night before with everything laid out and the bib and timing strips already attached.

    Reply

    Michelle March 15, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    I ALWAYS thank volunteers, police, etc during races. Especially during bad weather, I can only imagine how much of a pain it can be to be out there helping us!

    Also… I don’t recommend running in new clothes, socks, sneakers, etc. Kind of like the food, you don’t want any surprises on race day!

    Reply

    Amy March 15, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    What a great photo of the sky in the fourth photo down! The sky is so pretty!

    Reply

    cindylu March 16, 2011 at 12:19 am

    Morning of: don’t forget to apply sunscreen and something to prevent chafing.

    If it’s a bigger race, you should try to arrive more than an hour before the gun time. I’m running the LA Marathon this Sunday (my first). It starts at Dodger Stadium which is not the easiest place to get to. I’ve read plenty of recaps from last year and heard this was a mess last year. So, I’ll take a shuttle from the finish line in Santa Monica at 4:30 am to Dodger Stadium. I’ll likely be standing around for an hour or more before I even begin to line up in my corral, but that’ll give me plenty of time to get to the port-a-potty. Those lines are insane.

    Also, if you’ll have spectators on the course, make sure you’ve communicated about pace times and set a meet up spot at the finish line festival.

    Reply

    Rachel ~ Dressed to Dish March 16, 2011 at 2:20 am

    Thanks for all the great race day prep tips! I ran my first 5k race EVER recently and I can’t wait to try a 10k next, these tips definitely help! :)

    Reply

    Hannah March 16, 2011 at 2:45 am

    That gorgeous sky! Almost makes me want to pick up running as a hobby :P

    Reply

    Mixie March 16, 2011 at 4:20 am

    Do you like your Forerunner watch? I’m in the market for an *affordable* and simple running watch after disliking my Nike +.

    Do you have any tips/recommendations on good models you’ve used or considered when shopping around?

    Reply

    Katie G. March 16, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Tina, you are just like me, always prepared ahead of time and ALWAYS early! I am always so nervous that I will be late! Great post!

    Reply

    Emma (Namaste Everyday) March 16, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    these are some really good tips! As a beginning racer, it’s good to know what the pros do ;)

    Reply

    Amanda/RunningOnCoffee March 19, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    Great post! This reminds me, I need to start to shift my schedule to get ready for my upcoming half marathon. Which includes getting more sleep, so I can wake up earlier. My runs have been after work or mid-afternoon on weekends — largely due to waiting for it to be as warm as possible in the winter. It’s not super warm in the mornings yet, but I’m going to do some pre-work runs in the next 2 weeks to readjust myself to morning running.

    I worry about the hydration too, starting the day before. I try to skip alcohol the day before too. I don’t eat anything weird or super greasy the day before. I get nervous at the beginning and my HR jumps before we even start. Then I have to remind myself to slow down at the beginning too.

    Reply

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